Addicted to Shiny Objects

A cautionary tale of what happens when leadership forgets to plan for how new technology might fit into an operational plan.

I am about to tell you about a client of mine who was so addicted to buying and installing new technology that they forgot to consider planning, management and maintenance. Of course, this led to many issues before, during, and after each implementation. I hope this situation does not ring true for any of you, and helps you steer clear of the dangers of this type of leadership.

Oxford Languages defines addiction as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity. It is the inability to stop engaging in a behavior even though it can cause psychological and physical harm. There are many types of addiction and I have run across one in my IT career that was related to business and was causing physical harm to the organization’s network, infrastructure, and bottom line. It also hampered the psychological wellbeing of the teams supporting this organization.

In this organization they had a very immature technology team, one that needed seasoned experience and knowledge to grow into a larger entity. They really had no organized infrastructure or application development environment. When a new team of very experienced people came in, they saw a need to grow the IT environment while mitigating security risk.

This team started evaluating new systems, applications, and appliances to do just that.

They started with great intentions by buying equipment, software, and appliances to build a better network. Without a big budget, they had to get creative with the type of switches, routers, servers, and applications they bought. They met with vendors and matched what they thought they could spend with the amount of equipment needed, and purchased what met those parameters.

The biggest mistake they made was thinking they were planning for the future. The future they were planning for was tomorrow, not five years down the road or even next year for that matter. They did not create a strategic plan for what the organization needed overall. It was more about what the vendors told them they could provide as they came along. Technology was added as it was discovered, with little to no consideration for compatibility with existing infrastructure or even technology they were planning to buy tomorrow.

It quickly became known that if you wanted to sell this organization something new and shiny all you needed to do was offer the leadership some kind of incentive, like trips to their headquarters, sporting events, and fine dining. I now understand why some companies and government institutions do not permit their employees to accept “gifts” from vendors.
In this organization it became an obsession. The leadership was so addicted to buying new things that employees started calling it earning merit badges.

Their problem was they were always evaluating and implementing new technology and did not stop to ask questions about compatibility, true costs, or impact. Once the new technology was implemented, they were off to the next one. They totally forgot about maintenance and day to day support. The object acquired had lost its shininess and was yesterday’s news.

While I was working with this client, they suffered a lot of self-created problems – internet failures, network outages, and firewall attacks that took the entire organization down, sometimes for hours, other times for days. Being they are retail this had a financial impact as well as a loss of production. Because no one had time to document, maintain, or monitor the systems beforehand, it made it twice as hard to troubleshoot and fix in the moment.

Even after one of these events, there was no time to investigate the root cause. A temporary fix was always put in place and hardly ever replaced with a permanent solution. They were always working on the next shiny merit badge. To make matters worse, they threw more money and time fixing the problems than if they would have needed to if they had stopped and planned things out and listened to their teams.

Being a student of ITIL, project management, and processes, I thought I would be able to help them on their journey to a mature IT shop. The missing component was the senior leadership. They had no intent to create project plans, follow best practices, or take the time to make sure what they were doing was compatible. They did not even stop to ask the stakeholders, end users, or customers what they needed.

There are so many things wrong with how things were done there that I could write many more articles with advice. I think most of you reading this understand and get what the do’s and don’t do’s are here. The purpose of this article is to share with you a true story of how an organization can go from bad to worse with good intentions. The pace of the development of technology is rapid, and organizations need to be nimble to adapt, but you still have to put in the time and effort to see the big picture and know how each piece of technology will fit into the customer and employee experiences.

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